And the winner is . . . ?

IMG_2533In today’s edition of The Times we hear that wolf-like breeds of dog – Huskies and Malamutes – are turning up in rescue centres in increasing numbers, fuelled by the popularity of series like Game of Thrones. Attracted by the idea of embracing life alongside a bear-like beast of such obvious magnificence with more than a hint of the wild wood about it, folk who haven’t thought things through are taking home cuddly pups which very shortly develop into massively strong, intelligent creatures hungry for meat and exercise, increasingly unmanageable and aggressive without enough training and work to occupy them. Even with a major commitment of time, energy and finance, such dogs can rarely be allowed to live the life they need, so our collective hearts sank when an Alaskan Malamute won Best of Working Group, giving the breed another boost, with all that that entails. The whirligig of canine fashion is swift and sickening: in recent years the Staffie has been the most common abandoned breed, along with various pit-bull lookalikes resulting from cross-breeding for strength, size and aggression, but now the modern home is incomplete without the ultimate fashion accessory, the fantasy dog for a fantasy life. Quite by chance this funny, serendipitous photo taken at Crufts last weekend captures the current trend perfectly: the traditional Dalmatian flanked by the dogs of the moment.Perhaps a stuffed toy sitting in the living room would be a better choice for the hundreds of individuals who decide they can’t manage a real one.

IMG_2570As the competition turned out, it was pleasing that the top prizes went to two traditional British breeds, the Scottish Terrier and the Flat-Coated Retriever, but this probable up-turn in popularity will bring its own problems, as celebrity ever draws the fashion-conscious. Designer crossbreeds have proved another fashion, with serious health consequences in many instances, Cavachons for example bringing together two small breeds – the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Bichon Frise –  each independently troubled by heart problems.  Uncle Nunu and Barnaby know well enough from their time on Discover Dogs that far too many people thinking of getting a dog are starting out from places of ignorance: believing, for instance, that a dog can be left alone from day to day for hours on end and that the only real question to ask is whether one breed is better able to endure this isolation than another. In their days on the Golden Retriever stand, they met with only one person planning to buy a retriever as the result of careful and informed consideration, asking genuinely insightful questions about the relationship that dog would have to their family. Theirs will be a lucky dog and he will have a happy, dog-centred life.


Tom’s big win!

DSC00810On the eve of this years Crufts, it is my great pleasure to celebrate Tomas’s very recent victory. For, at the recent Joint Dalmatian Club Championship Show, held mid-February at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, our distinguished and very handsome friend (appearing under his professional name of Dalleaf Devil’s Disciple) was crowned Best in Show.

Having won another Challenge Certificate when judged Best Dog, after winning his Open class, he went on to take the top prize of the day when he, rather than the Best Bitch, supervened in the last contest of the competition. That Saturday Tomas showed his very finest qualities  and was a deserving winner. Honest and true, strong and fine: well done, Tomas, and good luck at Crufts, where we hope to congratulate you in person on the Sunday you’re due to compete. By the way, old friend, we hear on the doggie grapevine that you are likely to have a little nephew or niece joining your family in the few months’ time: wot larks, Pip old chap!

Use me but as your spaniel

IMG_1252No dog appears to us to become so personally attached to his master or mistress as a Spaniel: it cannot endure to be absent; it will come to the room door and scratch and whine to be admitted, and even patiently wait for hours, until entrance be granted. We had a small high-bred female . . . which displayed towards her mistress the strongest affection. This dog was remarkable for beauty, having long glossy hair like silk, and for admirable symmetry; she was besides, as spirited  as elegant . . .

These appreciative words of a nineteenth century spaniel aficionado are quoted in the introduction to Jennifer Lloyd Carey’s splendid work, Cocker Spaniels, first published twenty years ago, a fine work on the history and care of my kind and newly acquired second-hand by Kemo Sabe to add to our growing collections of historic works on my honest little breed. I can tell from all the time she takes looking at such works, pondering on the pictures of my ancient forbears, that she is more and more taken by my sort. When she comes across a thought like the one above she is often moved to draw me closer to hearth and home, knowing that my kind have long proven devoted and constant companions.  I understand and I am quietly proud. Such comments are typical, and pepper the prefaces of instructional works about keeping little spaniels like me.  Only yesterday Kemo Sabe read to us about Rogue, Charles I’s spaniel, who was with him until the end: despite the fellow’s shortcomings of character, I am glad that Rogue remained devoted and gave him friendship when the world was turning upside down.

200px-Hs-lloyd-and-luckstar-of-wareMrs Lloyd Carey, mentioned above, comes from a family which knows more about Cocker Spaniels than most as three generations have bred and loved spaniels. True to form she was with her dog Robin at Crufts last week, though she has been attending since childhood and showed her first Cocker Spaniel in her own right in 1948. When her dear Robin failed to trouble the judges this year, Mrs Carey wasn’t perturbed: the vicissitudes of dog shows are all one to her! Mrs Carey’s grandfather was a pioneer Cocker Spaniel-man, founding a famous line; her father, Herbert Summers Lloyd, won Best in Show at Crufts no less than six times, twice indeed with Luckystar of Ware, the sweetie in the middle of this picture, who looks a lot like me. Peas out of pods, as the boys will no doubt say!

If you would like to see more about this remarkable family of dogs and their loving humans, you will find an interesting little video here:

220px-Canigou_Cambrai_1996Cocker Spaniels have won Best In Show at Crufts more than any other breed, the last one being Albert, professionally known as Champion Canigou Cambrai, in 1996. I wonder if a Cocker will ever win Crufts again, or is that a fond hope? In an age when dog show glamour is increasingly located in the weird and wacky, breeds are no longer fit for their original purpose, and untraditional breeds and those contorted into unhealthy shapes seem to capture the popular imagination, it is good to celebrate the well-roundedness and vigour of the Cocker Spaniel whose only drawback when being shown is the length of his furry skirt! We are a really lovely companion dog: merry, active, modestly-sized, kindly, loyal and deeply, deeply affectionate. We give ourselves wholeheartedly to everything we do and, for most of us, that means being there for you, for as long as you need. By the way, the orange roan in this post is one of my relatives of the Lynwater line: a gorgeous girl and very like my mother.

Precious winners all

IMG_1285In this impromptu shot the gloriously golden Harry, who’d just been judged best of all the Sussex Spaniels at last week’s Crufts, is being lined up for a celebratory snap by a top professional photographer. A father, grandfather and a Good Citizen Dog to boot, Harry is more formally known as Belcam King’s Ransom for Glenbrows and he is both beautiful and bear-like. Straight after this, he was whisked off to the Gundog Group judging where another bonny dog won through, and so she (the only bitch in the final competition) had to IMG_1292hang around for the undeniable honour of taking part in the Best in Show later that evening while dear Harry could return to his latest family of puppies and their mother. Thus it is that the joy of the winning moment goes hand in hand with the even greater pleasures of the everyday to which we all return, as Harry and his proud owner were happy to recognise. In the world of Crufts, where every dog competing is by definition a winning dog, and increasing numbers are superstars from countries far far away, madness lies in thinking anything else.

Here, for example, is one of IMG_1267Newmie’s close relatives, Show Champion Chalksville Autumnal Storm, resting on his bench before competition in the Golden Retriever ring, and to my mind looking an awful lot like Uncle Jonny. Good luck card behind him, his smile reveals a relaxed and patient soul, inured to the waiting which is the lot of all Crufts entrants. But as 599 goldies were entered that day in the competition – yes, 599! – scores of them internationally renowned and decked with titles –  Storm was prepared to be outshone, which was the fate of hundreds of them, in every class.

IMG_1219In another hall we found our family friend, Tomas the Dalmatian – professionally known as Dalleaf Devil’s Disciple – whom we’ve all known since childhood and who has even enjoyed staying here with us. As you can guess from his impedimenta, he’s an outstanding boy who’s won up and down the country, but that Sunday he just missed the top three in his class – that’s the way it goes! And so, at the end of the day, it was home for us all, the pretty and the proud, the decorated and the disregarded. Home, with its comfortable cushions, warm hearth, Boggis-bed, bird-bread at the bottom of the garden, and fun and frolic of the ordinary, everyday kind. Most of all, we returned within the framework of that bottomless love; the love that holds me firm as I fidget in my dreams, trying on for size the stardom which we of the Dickens clan can barely comprehend.

Chance encounters of the canine kind

IMG_1202This thoughtful chap is Claus, a red, miniature smooth-haired dachshund. He is a gem and I would like him to join me on the sofa! What a splendidly serious chap he is, with his vase-y front legs and inscrutable expression – one which seems to suggest that he has seen more than most of us, and been impressed less, too. We met young Claus on hound and terrier day, the second day of showing at this year’s Crufts; with him were his lovely owners, cheerful and very friendly twin sisters over from their native Sweden both to enjoy a holiday and then tackle Crufts. Communication wasn’t a problem for any of us and what was a chance encounter turned into an ebullient time for IMG_1207all. Apart from this trim small gentleman, so pensive in his pose, the ladies had brought with them his litter sister, Lotte, and even tinier ‘little’ Claus, who is a rabbit-sized dachshund – entered as a separate class on the continent. Each dachshund had its own distinctive character: Lotte, a bit barky like me, but unlike me a bit stand-offish (the ladies apologised); Claus-the-Great, dignified, easy-going and sociable; Claus-the-Less, sleepy, cuddly and cute as a button and still only a pup. Four o’clock had come and gone when we happened on this little family in a quiet corner of their hall so most of the dachshunds had been removed from the benches which had been theirs all through the judging. Boys and girl alike agreed that they did not mind not having won a class; it was wonderful to be here, in England, having a lovely holiday before the big occasion that is Crufts, with all its ups and downs, its stress and feelings. We all smiled and laughed and extended our hands – our paws – across the bridge which links such little souls as us to the most prestigious dog show in the world. Good to be here, they laughed; a privilege to qualify; an experience to treasure. Lovely little fellows!

IMG_1214Next door, in the Hound section of Discover Dogs, we found a small a black and tan, with perfect, shiny black claws resting gently on an elbow – nestled in his loving owner’s arms. In the neighbouring booth we found his standard-sized cousin, whose bulk made him much more of an armful: a real dog, as some may say. To this small spaniel, the gentle, inquiring eyes of the variously-sized dachshunds are very striking and the questions they were IMG_1212asking have stayed with me. To the touch they are lovely things: trim yet tough, with good strong muscles; their silkiness is irresistible; their ears simply demand to be stroked; their paws, as mighty as a mole’s, demand to be taken and tenderly grasped; a good strong back, and capable legs. But best of all, that intelligent and intellectual expression, borne aloft the nose from which spring the scenthound’s special gifts!

The glory that is a golden

IMG_1239Bouncing along in a cloud of calling-out , all three of us were utterly joyful once again as we returned this glorious morning to our beautiful beach after several days at the extravaganza which is Crufts. The sun was bright upon the glassy water, the tide-level perfect for our needs, no breeze to speak of:  the magic of the Northumberland coastline on a magnificent morning. Great to be back! Our time away was, however, both bustling and thrilling, meeting new friends and old favourites alike on the Eukanuba-pink carpet upon which Barnaby simply cannot get a grip! This year’s Crufts will probably colour my posts for a while. As a small, simple and impressionable spaniel, the pictures in my mind are very vivid but, in my heart, the most abiding warmth was generated by seeing so many representatives of the golden breed to which my Dickens Dogs brothers belong. So, to begin with, if you haven’t already seen The Southern Golden Retriever Display Team in action, treat yourself to their 2014 routine –  a joyous reminder of the very special qualities of these delightful beasts: gentle, adoring of their owners, bumbling, always happy to please – or try to. Enjoy!

Going to the dogs

DSC01455 Yes: it’s that time of year again!  As the ‘Next Big Day’ counter on my home page shows, tomorrow marks the opening of Crufts Dog Show 2014, and that is exciting for us boys for lots of reasons. For some, Crufts has become quite controversial, evoking a wide range of reactions, even within the dog world. Shown for years on the BBC, and loved by millions who adore seeing dogs but couldn’t get to the Show itself, coverage was dropped by the nation’s broadcaster over the scandal regarding health issues which certain breeds are experiencing as a result of dog show judging, the awful results of which had actually been explored in a BBC documentary. Channel 4 took it on, complete with Clare Balding, a great dog-lover herself. Even those whose dogs actually compete at the prestigious event (qualification for entry depends on being in the first three at a Championship Dog Show) are frequently ambivalent about Crufts, where the show dogs at its heart could be said to have been subsumed by commercial pressures and the arrival of the great British public and all that entails. We Dickens Dogs know only too well what a shopping-fest it has become, with hall upon hall of the enormous National Exhibition Centre complex crammed full of canine impedimenta and comestibles of every conceivable kind – so full, both of stalls and of humanity, that dogs passing through on their way to do whatever they’ve come for can hardly get by.  But that, actually, is all part of the joy of it.

DSC01430For it is a doggy bonanza and, at its very best, celebrates the relationship good people have with the dogs of this world:  the joy you see on these Japanese students’ faces – who have at the end of the day to make do with only a toy retriever – is typical of the sheer delight expressed by countless scores of dog-lovers who trudge through the Discover Dogs section, where Newman and Barnaby will be meeting and greeting selflessly for a couple of days.  Onto the stand come all kinds of folk: those who have lost their own dear Uncle Jonny, and are themselves now too elderly – or so they feel – to take on the responsibility of another goldie; they just want to hold dear Barnaby’s beautiful head in their hands, be welcomed by Newman’s enthusiastic embrace or share the photos of their trusted but now departed boy or girl. One person even brought a little oil painting of their old friend with them. Then there are the anxious parents whose children’s desperate desire for a dog doesn’t take into account the regular walks, regular purchases and deliveries of food, regular injections, regular this, that and the other – and most of all the regular ‘being with us’ – which bringing a dog-shaped bear into the home entails. Tactfully trotted out, these home thoughts from an old hand can do the trick and gently help them to shelve the matter, for the time being at least. The Discover Dogs section of Crufts is all about self-indulgence: the miniature smooth-haired dachshund we’d like to pop into the corner of the sofa that’s still spare; Mr Percy Perfect Pug-let telling us all what he thinks; Wendy the German Shepherd, which we have infantilised but are secretly afraid to go near. Then, of course, come Gundog Day on Sunday, there are the setters – English, Irish and Gordon – every one a winner so far as we’re concerned, and the English pointers, so dignified, so neat. There are even our relatives, patient and lovely, waiting for the ring.

Crufts also educates folk about the horrors of puppy farming, which continues unchecked by any law, as well as charities working with and on behalf of dogs who suffer at the hands of the cruel and exploitative. The public also learns about the good dogs do – Barnaby’s own Pets As Therapy as well as Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs for the Blind, to mention a handful, are all there, raising awareness and funds for their wonderful work. But most of all, we boys enjoy the sheer fun of it all, meeting our adoring fans and snacking on the freebies which were Uncle Jonny’s single favourite thing.  Dear old friend: there we would be, chatting away to the salesperson, while he would be digging deep into the display stand and the Fish for Dogs profits!  So, let the grand performers take the stage in their individual classes – that particular thing is not for us – while we gather for our annual doggy bash of a very different sort. Remember: you always take the best dogs home!

Here’s where to go to find out more about everything taking place over the next few days: